Following his dominant win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in October 2020, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov stunned fans worldwide by announcing his immediate retirement from MMA. Now three months later, Nurmagomedov is still officially the UFC champion, and UFC president Dana White has refused to close the door on Nurmagomedov fighting again. Could Nurmagomedov come out of retirement to fight again? And if so, who are his potential opponents?
After winning the UFC title in 2018, defending that belt three times, and “retiring” with a perfect 29-0 record, Nurmagomedov doesn’t have much more to prove. Nonetheless, Dana White has continued to tease a potential return, and Nurmagomedov has no shortage of possible opponents, all of which would result in a lucrative payday.
Prior to UFC Fight Island 7 on January 16, 2021, White posted a video of Nurmagomedov and him going behind closed doors, ostensibly to discuss a return to competition. Hours later, White appeared on the UFC’s broadcast to announce, essentially, that no progress had been made. White said that Nurmagomedov was impressed with lightweight contender Charles Oliveira, who recently dominated former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson. White also said that Nurmagomedov might be enticed to return to the Octagon if certain top contenders put on spectacular performances.
Per White, Nurmagomedov said “show me something spectacular and make me want to come back and fight.”
WHO ARE NURMAGOMEDOV’S POTENTIAL OPPONENTS?
First and foremost, there’s one potential fight for Nurmagomedov that would instantly be the biggest fight in MMA: a rematch with Conor McGregor. McGregor, who faces Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 257, continues to call for a second fight with Nurmagomedov. The pair first squared off at UFC 229, when Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round. Immediately following the fight, a scuffle between the two teams ensued, fueling the fire for a potential big-money rematch.
Beyond McGregor, there are at least three other possible opponents for a Nurmagomedov return fight. The aforementioned Oliveira might be the best fighter of the group, but he is relatively unknown and, with his expertise in grappling, could be the most stylistically difficult fight for the former champion.
The two other potential opponents for Nurmagomedov are Michael Chandler and Dan Hooker, who are fighting each other in the co-main event of UFC 257. Chandler is a former long-time Bellator champion making his UFC debut. If he is able to make a statement with a spectacular win over Hooker, look for Chandler to call for a fight with Nurmagomedov. Finally, although Hooker lost his last bout to Poirier, he is a dependable action fighter and could also find himself in the Nurmagomedov sweepstakes with a big win at UFC 257.